Stardom 5* Star Grand Prix Finals
Watch: Stardom World (when it drops)
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
This year’s Stardom 5* Star Grand Prix had a cloud of unfortunate circumstances hovering over the tournament as Lucha Underground’s Ivelisse dropped out of the field at the last minute, Courtney Stewart left the tournament midway through (with conflicting reports whether she had family circumstances to take care of or she left the tour after backstage confrontations with Tessa Blanchard according to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter) and Kairi Hojo suffering a concussion vs. Io Shirai via a Ganso Bomb to the floor.
What we were left with in the finals was the matchup of Tessa Blanchard (winner of the Red Stars Block with 9 points) vs. Yoko Bito, (winner of the Blue Stars Block with 9 points) who just came back to the promotion months ago from her 2012 retirement.
The show starts off with joshi puroresu legend Bull Nakano and 2012 5*Star Grand Prix winner Yukuzi Aikawa as special guest commentators. This is a special nugget as Aikawa won the Goddesses of Stardom Tag League with Bito in 2011.
Azumi & Saori Anou vs. Arisu Nanase & Natsumi Maki *
This match was pretty quick for an opening tag match. Azumi and Anou controlled most of the match as at one point they had dueling Boston Crab Holds on the Actwres gir’Z team. It came down to Azumi and Natsumi Maki as Maki cartwheeled out of a brainbuster which got a rise out of the crowd. Azumi did catch Maki with a brainbuster for only a two count but Maki came back with a cartwheel bomb for the win. Not a bad opening but the length of match made it forgettable by the end of the show.
Arisu Nanase & Natsumi Maki beat Azumi & Saori Anou by pinfall in 6:33
Kaori Yoneyama vs. Kris Wolf**
Both of these wrestlers have a penchant for comedy matches and the first half of this match was living up to it as Yoneyama was playing heel as she attacked Kris Wolf’s furry tail. Yoneyama controlled most of the match but Wolf got in a springboard crossbody in the middle for only a count of two. Yoneyama hit Wolf with a Bom Ba Ye knee to the back of the head followed by a running senton but only got a two count.She finally got the win with a rolling German Suplex. Decent match for the time that it was allotted.
Kaori Yoneyama beat Kris Wolf by pinfall in 5:33
Kairi Hojo vs. Hiromi Mimura **1/2
The story of the match was last year’s tournament champion Kairi Hojo returning from her concussion against her part time tag team partner Hiromi Minura, who is trying to get the biggest win in young her career. Hiromi tried numerous times firing offense against Hojo but Hojo (who isn’t that much bigger than Hiromi) would not budge. Kairi quickly took over the match with machine gun knife edge chops in corner.
Both trade forearm exchanges until Hiromi catches Kairi in a Calf Cutter. Kairi got to the ropes with a minor bit of struggle and gained control hitting her spear and spinning back fist for only a two count. Hojo slaps on a Boston Crab only to have Hiromi get to the ropes this time. Hiromi got desperate as she went for quick pins and came off the top rope with a Flying Elbow similar to Hojo’s. Hiromi tried again but Hojo catches her and a forearm exchange ensues. Hiromi gets the better of it with a slap but Hojo pulls her down off the top. Hojo follows up with a Sliding D and a Diving Elbow Drop for the win. Decent match from both as Hojo continues to put on solid performances this year. Kairi and Hiromi hug afterwards.
Kairi Hojo beat Hiromi Mimura by pinfall in 11:20
Jungle Kyona, Mayu Iwatani & Momo Watanabe vs. Oedo-Tai (Kagetsu, Kyoko Kimura & Hana Kimura) **
Oedo-Tai came into this match teasing a new member for the group and it ended up with Kyoko Kimura’s daughter, Hana Kimura, being the newest addition. Kimura just debuted for WRESTLE-1 last year and won a tournament to win the JWP Junior & POP Champion four days earlier. Right after the pre-match introductions, Oedo-Tai attacked Jungle, Mayu and Momo and brawled all over Korakuen Hall for about five minutes. Once they got back in the ring, Momo plays Ricky Morton for a little bit as Kyoko beats her down. Momo finally gets to her corner to tag out and Jungle comes in as the powerhouse of the team. Jungle and Mayu meshed well as they came up with impressive tag team spots and even did a Tarzan yell together to get the crowd to laugh. Hana Kimura wasn’t bad in this match for her young age as she only got in a few times and was serviceable.
The end of the match broke down into regular Oedo-Tei fashion as Kris Wolf tackled the referee and Kagestu started to hit Jungle with a street sign. Hana and Kagestu hit some good double team moves on Jungle with Hana kicking Kyoko Kimura into a Gory Bomb on Jungle for the win. Solid trios match that should’ve had more Mayu and Kagestu. After the match, Oedo-Tai challenged Mayu and Kairi Hojo for the Artist of Stardom Championship that they share with Io Shirai.
Kyoko Kimura, Kagetsu & Hana Kimura beat Jungle Kyona, Mayu Iwatani & Momo Watanabe by pinfall in 14:20
SWA Undisputed Championship: Toni Storm (c) vs. Blue Nikita **1/2
The reason why Nikita is getting a title shot here is because she beat Storm on Day 6 of the tournament. The match here tonight was a decent match as Nikita continued her heel work from the rest of the tour and at one point hit Storm with a low blow. During the match, Storm gave Nikita a piledriver on the ring apron and Nikita sold it well that she was dazed before beating the twenty count. She then fires up to put Storm in the corner for deliver a cannonball senton. Later in the match, Storm comes up with a back cracker near the ropes and hits a fishermen suplex for only a two count. Storm goes up to the top rope but Nikita gets her on her shoulders to hit three consecutive Death Valley Drivers. You think that’s it but nope. Storm kicks out at one. Storm follows up with a German Suplex, a piledriver and a top rope leg drop to retain the SWA Championship. Again, a decent match between the both of them but three consecutive Death Valley Drivers to only result in a one count was excessive.
Toni Storm beat Blue Nikita by pinfall in 10:27
World of Stardom Championship: Io Shirai (c) vs. Kay Lee Ray ***
This might have been the most anticipated matchup of the night as Io Shirai has been the 2016 MVP of Stardom while Kay Lee Ray has put on great performances throughout the tournament to make her the MVP of Stardom in the last month. Kay Lee Ray got to show off her great high flying as she busted out a tope and a Swanton Bomb Dive to the floor in the middle of the match. Ray took control of the match late with a Gory Bomb on Io and tries to end it with another Swanton Bomb but Io gets her knees up. Ray tries to fly again with a Springboard Cross Body but Io catches her mid-flight with a German Suplex for only a two count. Io goes for a moonsault and retains in a match shorter than expected time. After the match, Io in English tells Kay Lee Ray to come back to the ring, thanks her, and tells her that she respects her. Ray says it means a lot and hopes to face her again for the title in the future. A nice gesture by the crowd in Korakuen to start clapping and chanting “Kay Lee Ray”.
This was a borderline great match but the suspense of a traditional world title match was not there. It felt more like a showcase match between these two and Io’s title reign never felt in jeopardy. Nothing against Kay Lee Ray or Io as time worked against them here. This was the 2nd shortest title match Io has had in 2016 and the third shortest in all of her title reigns put together.
Io Shirai beat Kay Lee Ray by pinfall in 13:02
5 Star Grand Prix Finals: Yoko Bito (Blue Stars) vs. Tessa Blanchard (Red Stars)**
Not many people would’ve had Tessa Blanchard main eventing Korakuen Hall in 2016 on live TV as a likely scenario but here we are. Two video packages played before and after intermission to hype up this match but it didn’t work. The crowd was not into it at first at all as this is Tessa’s first Korakuen show ever and Bito has only been back in the promotion for barely three months. Tessa dominated the match but worked at a much slower pace than the rest of the wrestlers on this show (which isn’t a bad thing) and trash talked Bito throughout. She did it very similarly to what you would see in the WWE Divas division pre-2015. However, the trash talking didn’t work as the crowd got silent at points. She even yelled for the crowd to chant for Bito later in the match.
Tessa started to work the back of Bito but that got abandoned once they went to the ring apron for an attempted piledriver. Tessa threw Bito down to the floor only to have Bito catch her by her feet and drag her to the floor with her. Tessa gets the upper hand by throwing Bito into the first row near the entrance way and hits her in the gut with a chair while calling Bito disrespectful. The crowd showed signs of life once Bito made her comeback and started give Blanchard some hard kicks. They found their way over to the ring apron again as they had a weird botch as Bito threw a kick with Blanchard catching her leg, which was close to ropes. Blanchard holds her leg for about 10 seconds, throws it down, catches another kick from Bito, and then performs a dragon screw leg whip to the floor as both came crashing down. Very awkward moment in the match as they teased not making it back into the ring for the 20 count.
The ending of the match had Bito give Blanchard almost everything in terms of finishers as Blanchard kicked out of a German Suplex and a B Driver. This is was supposed to be big deal as the B Driver usually puts everybody away but the crowd was silent for this near fall too. Tessa came back with a Code Red but only got a two count. Bito came back with another B Driver but only got a two count. She followed up with two Doll B’s (spinning roundhouse kicks to the face) and got the win to become the 2016 5*Star Grand Prix Tournament.
Yoko Bito beat Tessa Blanchard by pinfall in 16:27
Bito became overjoyed with the crowd finally chanting for her as she started to cry. With the win, she earns a title shot against Io Shirai on October 30 at Korakuen Hall. Many awards were given out after Bito was awarded a crown and robe including Io Shirai vs. Kairi Hojo being Best Match of the tournament. Yukuzi Aikawa came into the ring to congratulate Bito in feel good moment for long time Stardom fans.
STARDOM 5*Star GRAND PRIX FINALS
Decent - 6/10
This year's finals were not as good as last years as that show ended with two great matches in Thunder Rock vs. the Jumonji Sisters along with Kairi Hojo vs. Hudson Envy in the finals. That also had the added bonus moment of Madusa coming back to Japan shaking hands with Bull Nakano. This year felt as if they were up against the time that SamuraiTV allotted them and had to rush the two title matches. Kay Lee Ray vs. Io Shirai is the only match worth checking out if you are a casual joshi fan but it could have been more than what was expected. It was clear that Kairi Hojo's concussion left a void in the tournament and also makes you ponder if Hojo would have been the better choice in the Finals instead of Blanchard. Another consideration is if Ivelisse did participate in the tournament, would she have been in the finals against Yoko Bito? That might have been a better styles matchup and Stardom has ties to Lucha Underground. The other side of the equation you have to question is if Bito is ready to be in the main event role for Stardom and if the promotion makes her the new ace by the end of the year. Only time will tell.